David Adams Richards’s tragic 2019 novel Mary Cyr, about a misunderstood heiress, is sprinkled with disdain for a middle class that “pretended to know everything” and often anointed itself champion of the poor. The wealthy title character, Richards writes, “had met the poor everywhere and was more knowledgeable about them than were a host of middle-class activists that he had met over the years.”
The “he” in that passage is the book’s protagonist, John Delano. But it’s hard not to wonder if it’s also Richards, a native of the hard-luck Miramichi region of New Brunswick, taking a shot at the members of the comfortable literary circles he would have frequented when he relocated to Toronto, and perhaps also the politicos who run Ottawa, where he has served as a senator since 2017.
Richards, who has explored poverty and power in dozens of novels and essays since he was first published in the 1970s, was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who, as anyone who pays even a little attention to Canadian politics knows, likes to talk about his Liberals as the party of the “middle class and those working hard to join it.”